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Visa is one of the world’s most prominent and widely accepted credit card networks. It doesn’t issue its own credit cards, but several major card issuers use the Visa network, including Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Wells Fargo, and more. Visa cards are issued at various tiers; the higher the tier, the better the benefits.
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“Hello, do you accept Visa?”
You’ve probably never even heard this question, because with rare exceptions the answer is almost always “yes.”
You can jump down to find the right Visa credit card for you now, if you’re in the market for a new card. But just what is Visa, and how did it become one of the archetypal brands in payment processing worldwide?
Visa is a multinational financial services corporation, with headquarters in Foster City, California, which is near San Francisco. It provides a payment network for credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, and gift cards, facilitating electronic funds transfers practically everywhere around the world.
Visa is not an issuer of credit or debit cards. It does not set interest rates, loan money, or provide the funds for credit lines. It doesn’t determine annual fees, reward rates, or signup bonus offers.
Instead, it’s a network that connects consumers, merchants, banks, and other financial institutions. It helps money get wherever it needs to go. The other major U.S. networks are Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. So, anytime you hear something called a “Visa card,” it’s just referring to any credit or debit card that uses the Visa network.
Issuers are typically banks, like Capital One and Citi. Learn more about the differences between card issuers and networks here.
Almost every merchant that accepts credit cards will accept Visa cards. For the most part you can be confident that your Visa will work no matter what part of the world you may be in, with only some rare exceptions.
Although it doesn’t issue cards, Visa does provide certain services and perks for cardholders. These often include benefits like Purchase Protection and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers for certain car rentals. High-end cards may come with more interesting perks, like a personal concierge, airport lounge access, and a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application fee credit. These benefits are usually serviced by third parties, rather than directly by Visa.
Personal Visa cards come at several different tiers:
And the same is true for business cards:
The higher the tier, the better the benefits. But just because a card is a certain tier, that doesn’t mean you’ll get all the benefits associated with that tier. A Visa Signature card, for example, may come with only some of the possible Visa Signature benefits. And in some cases your card tier will depend on the credit limit you get when approved: Visa Signature cards often require a $5,000 credit line, so if your credit isn’t good enough for that you may be given a Visa Platinum, or you could be declined.
The exact benefits for any specific card depend on the card issuer, so you’ll need to check your card details to see what your Visa card includes.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review), for example, is one of the few cards that’s issued at the Visa Infinite level, coming with some top-tier benefits. If you can’t qualify for that you’ll need to lower your ambitions a bit to Visa Signature, which you’ll find on lower-level cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review).
Ready to get your very own Visa credit card? Scratch a card issuer and you’re likely to find a Visa, so there’s no need to worry about availability.
Other than those two, you’ll probably find Visa card offers from just about every issuer you check. In some cases you may find a card that’s available as either a Visa or a Mastercard, but this is rare.
These issuer-network relationships aren’t set in stone. Credit card companies may decide to start issuing cards that run on different networks, or switch an existing card product from Visa to Mastercard, for example.
|Issuer||Card Networks Used|
|American Express||Only American Express|
|Bank of America||Visa, Mastercard|
|Capital One||Visa, Mastercard|
|Chase||Visa, Mastercard (mostly Visa)|
|Citi||Visa, Mastercard (mostly Mastercard)|
|Comenity||Visa, Mastercard, Discover|
|Credit Unions||Visa, Mastercard, American Express|
|Retail Store Credit Cards||Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover|
|U.S. Bank||Visa, Mastercard, American Express|
|USAA||Visa, American Express|
|Wells Fargo||Visa, American Express|
Visa cards come in all shapes and sizes. Some offer cash back bonus categories, while others provide intro APRs to help you pay off debt. There are many Visa-branded travel credit cards, offering bonus points for spending a certain amount in the first few billing cycles after your account opening, and without any foreign transaction fees either. Some have an intro annual fee as well, usually $0 for the first year before the full fee kicks in.
Whether you’re looking for a cash rewards or travel rewards Visa credit card, the right option for you will depend on what you want to use it for, as well as your credit history and credit scores. Do you need a rewards program that allows for point transfers to various airline and hotel loyalty programs, or are you looking for something simpler? If you’re just beginning to establish your credit or trying to rebuild it, you should probably consider a secured credit card before a rewards card.
Here are some of our top picks for credit cards networked with Visa.
|Card & Rewards||Annual Fee|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®
The Sapphire Reserve is a choice travel card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a solid rate. Though it comes with a steep annual fee of $550, it can pay for itself (and then some) with perks like a $300 annual travel credit, a statement credit towards a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee, and Priority Pass Select membership for access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.
Read more in our 2020 Review: Chase Sapphire Reserve – the Best Premium Travel Card?.
If you don’t travel enough to justify the annual fee of the Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a solid second choice. The rewards rate is a bit less and you won’t get any credits for travel purchases. But you can redeem for a 25% bonus for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, or transfer your points to a variety of airline and hotel partners where they could be worth more. And you’ll get primary rental car insurance, a feature that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
The Capital One Venture Rewards is yet another travel card (a lot of travel cards are Visas), but this pick just earns a flat rate on everything you purchase, plus the ability to transfer miles to any of Capital One’s travel partners.
The Venture Rewards even offers a statement credit toward a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee, a rare find on a card at this annual fee level ($95).
Read more in our 2020 Review: Capital One Venture Rewards Card – A Hotel Card for You?.
The Freedom Unlimited is a popular cash back rewards card that earns 1.5% back on just about everything, except you’ll get 3% or 5% back in certain categories like dining and travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Visa makes money in part from swipe fees, which are a percentage of every purchase. The more transactions and money spent with Visa cards, the more money Visa makes.
Visa has the capacity to process over 65,000 transactions every second, and in 2017 Visa processed 111.2 billion transactions. That included a total volume of $10.2 trillion moving around, with $7.3 trillion of that coming from payments alone (the rest comes from balance transfers, cash advances, and various fees).
All that activity produced over $18.3 billion in operating revenues in 2017, with a net income of over $8.3 billion. In March 2018, there were over 3.3 billion Visa cards in circulation around the world.
Chart Visa’s stock performance over the past six years and you’ll get a graph encouraging plenty of hope for future success. As of October 15, 2018, Visa stock is valued at $133.87 per share.
UnionPay has been the leader in total number of cards since 2010, and in 2015 it also took the lead from Visa for total payment volume as well. Mastercard follows in third place, and together these three companies account for 80% of all cards on Earth. UnionPay’s success is limited to China for the most part, with Visa and Mastercard dominant around the rest of the world.
There are over 14 billion cards in circulation in total, including credit and debit cards. That number is expected to rise to 17 billion by 2020, with most of the growth coming from the expanding Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and African marketplaces.
“What if money became fully electronic? Well, it would become nothing but electrons and photons, that move around this world at the speed of light at minuscule cost.”
These are the words of Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus of Visa. His vision took hold, and the world has been permanently changed as digital financial services expanded and superseded traditional cash payment systems.
Visa was founded in 1958 in the U.S., with the launch of the original bank credit card: the BankAmericard, created by Bank of America (still a major issuer of credit and debit cards today).
The BankAmericard gained traction thanks to what has become known as “the drop,” a massive, unsolicited mailing of 60,000 BankAmericards to residents in Fresno, California. These were actual credit cards, made of paper, with credit limits of $300 each — imagine getting something like that in the mail today, out of the blue? (If that happens to you now you’ve probably become a victim of identity theft.)
Other banks wanted in on the action too, and they began taking part in the new program, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the BankAmericard system was rebranded by Dee Hock as Visa, “a simple name that sounds the same in every language.” The year before that, in 1975, Visa produced the world’s first debit card. From its not-so-humble origins in California, Visa has matured to develop global ambitions that are still reshaping how we think about finance and currency.
As an acronym, “Visa” has a recursive meaning: it stands for Visa International Service Association.
Visa has changed a lot since 1976, but the color scheme of the logo has stayed the same for most of that time, with a few different iterations: usually blue on top, yellow on bottom. This is a depiction of a California landscape, where the company originated, with the blue stripe representing the sky and the yellow stripe representing the golden hills of California. Check out the image near the top of this article for one of the original designs.
In 2014, Visa updated its logo in the U.S. to remove the stripes, and now it’s just a stylized version of the word, with a flick on the “V.” But the older styles are still used in some other parts of the world.
In 2007, Visa restructured to better fit its role as a global corporation, and henceforth became officially known as Visa Inc. It had been a private company for its entire history, but a year after that, on March 19, 2008, Visa went public. And for the most part its stock has been on a continuous uphill march, as shown in the chart above.
At this point Visa Inc. actually separated from Visa Europe, splitting up with the aim of better serving its diverse set of customers. But this only lasted until 2016, when Visa Inc. acquired Visa Europe and they merged to become a single company once again, hoping to streamline its services to provide the same level of quality the world over.
Visa funds financial research of various kinds, gives to charity, and helps sponsor major events around the world. It began sponsoring the Olympic Games in 1986, for example, and has been doing so ever since. For the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, the company is sponsoring a group of over 40 Olympians and Paralympians, known as Team Visa and representing 17 different countries.
Visa is the only card type accepted at many Olympic venues, a coveted spot that shows off and reinforces its brand to the entire world. It will be providing payment-enabled stickers, gloves, and commemorative pins for the event. These devices can be pre-loaded with funds, and contactless payments can be made by waving them near checkout terminals.
Today, Visa is more than just a payment network — it has continued to develop new tools and services for the digital age.
Those tools include Visa Checkout, a secure system to make online card payments easier, which can load not just Visa-branded cards but Mastercard, American Express, and Discover as well. There’s the Visa Token Service, which creates secure tokens to help prevent fraud for mobile wallets and contactless transactions. And there’s also Visa Direct, a quick and easy way for people and merchants to send and receive money online.
So, do you have a Visa? If not, what are you waiting for? You can be sure this massive and influential company won’t be going away any time soon.
The best Visa card for you depends on your spending habits. The good news is that there are lots to choose from. Some of our favorites include:
Getting a Visa card is simple, especially if you have good credit: You just have to find a card with the Visa logo (which means it uses the Visa network) and apply. A good portion of well-known credit cards are Visa cards, so this shouldn’t be too tough.
Just make sure you choose something that complements your lifestyle. For example, if you’re a homebody, consider choosing a grocery store credit card rather than something that’ll reward you for travel.
Plus, make sure you understand your credit scores, and try to keep them as high as possible — the better your scores, the easier it generally is to be approved for the best Visa credit cards.
Most big-name credit card issuers offer at least a few Visa cards. American Express and Discover don’t; their cards use their own networks. And HSBC, notably, only issues cards on the Mastercard network.
So, issuers that offer Visa cards include, but aren’t limited to:
Local credit unions often issue Visa cards, too. And many popular retail store credit cards use the Visa network, though they’re typically issued through a company mentioned above, like Comenity or Synchrony.
Most Visa cards provide benefits, but those benefits depend on factors that can change, including the card issuer and the Visa tier at which the card is issued.
Perhaps most notably, many Visa credit cards offer rewards in the form of cash back, points, or miles for certain purchases. Some provide more rewards for specific categories, like gas, while others offer the same reward rate for every purchase.
Some Visa cards are known for their fees, or lack thereof. There are plenty of cards that charge no annual fee, and some cards may go further by removing things like foreign transaction fees and balance transfer fees.
On a related note, another popular benefit is the introductory APR offer. Some cards will allow you to pay off purchases or balance transfers over a set period of time without accumulating any interest charges, which can be helpful if you’re looking to buy something pricey or struggling to pay off debt.
Additionally, Visa cards are issued at several tiers: Basic Visa/Visa Platinum, Visa Signature, and Visa Infinite (along with some business tiers). The higher the tier, the more valuable the additional perks you’ll typically receive.
With that said, Visa and Mastercard are a bit more widely accepted around the world than Discover and Amex, which makes both Visa and Mastercard potentially better choices if you’re a frequent global traveler.
Whether you’re looking for a credit card for travel, building credit, or just everyday spending at grocery stores and gas stations, you’ll find a variety of options to fit every lifestyle in The Best Credit Cards. We cover Visa cards as well as Mastercard, American Express, and Discover, so you’re sure to find the right card for you.
Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.
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